I’d be telling lies if I said I agreed with the political views held and the industrial mischief wrought by the late Bob Crow. However, having said that, and in the wake of his untimely death, I find myself harbouring a begrudging admiration for his ferocious commitment to the protection of his members’ interests - in stark contrast to the hypocrisy and careless indifference displayed by his comrades in the country’s largest teaching union, the National Union of Teachers (NUT).
The NUT, through Christine Blower, its General Secretary, intends to strike over pay, pensions and working conditions next week - if, that is, the government refuses to accede to its demands. In particular, the union seeks a reduction in what it refers to as an unreasonable, excessive workload that leads to, on average, a 56- to 60-hour working week for its members. Indeed, as a consequence, and quite scandalously, two in five young recruits quit within five years.
But in my opinion, and in the opinions of many of my colleagues, the NUT ironically, and rather frustratingly, refuses to oppose many of the very policies that lead to such a burdensome, inordinate workload.
The Government’s Inclusion policy, for example, introduced and implemented by the previous Labour administration, is enthusiastically supported by the NUT. Passed in 2001, the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act prescribed the delivery of Special Educational Needs in mainstream schools, rather than, as was hitherto countenanced, in specialised facilities. This act not only resulted in the closure of schools that specifically catered for the diverse needs of a vast array of complex conditions, it also led to an enormous increase in the everyday demands of classroom teachers working in mainstream education. After all, we, the classroom teachers, were now – and still are - expected to simultaneously teach children with a multitude of diverse Special Educational Needs as well as ensure the progress of their more able peers.
‘What does this mean in practice?’ I hear you say. Well, to meet these various needs that range from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder to Autism, from Dyslexia to Dyspraxia, teachers are expected to plan and teach five or perhaps even six lessons in one, a demand that takes several hours to meet. So not only are we impelled to teach five lessons each day, we are also expected to plan rigorously for the next day’s lessons, which, if done properly, takes up to two hours for each class. That’s up to ten hours planning every day, in addition to the five hours teaching – and that’s before we’ve even had a chance to mark a single book or attend a single meeting. In sum, Labour’s Inclusion policy – supported by the NUT and, unfathomably, Michael Gove’s Conservatives - has led to a monumental increase in teacher workload, an increase, because of its impossible demands, that has led to angst and misery for teachers across the country.
However, the NUT continues to welcome the government’s ‘presumption in favour of a mainstream education’ for SEN pupils. Why? Aren’t they meant to protect their members? And, moreover, how have they got the temerity to threaten a strike over ‘excessive’ workload when they support the very policy that causes most of the extra demands?
It isn’t as if the SEN pupils benefit either. Their needs are not adequately met by teachers who are non-specialists; neither are the needs of the more able pupils who suffer neglect at the expense of their more needy classmates. Even Lady Warnock, the person who initially conceived the wretched policy, has acknowledged its abject failure. So I am forced to ask again: why does the NUT continue to support it?
Bad behaviour is another source of concern left unaddressed and shamefully neglected by the NUT. Not only does it lead to stress-induced sickness among staff tormented by ill-disciplined pupils, it also takes up an inordinate amount of time and energy. Instead of marking books and planning lessons, we are often forced to phone the homes of unruly kids, organise meetings with their parents and chase after non-attenders and detainees. But what is the response of our self-styled defenders and professional champions in the NUT? Silence…
Okay, they make the odd noise, a platitudinous grunt designed to satisfy their members’ concerns; yet in reality they have refused to even contemplate a nationwide strike over poor behaviour caused, in large part, by quixotic head teachers.
They have also opposed the Government’s laudable attempts to improve the current situation. They have railed against the abolition of appeals panels that had, for many years, the power to overturn the decisions of head teachers to permanently exclude badly behaved pupils. Indeed, on a not insignificant number of occasions, these panels have succeeded in overturning these decisions and, as a consequence, allowed violent pupils back into school. How can the NUT support a policy that actively threatens to harm its members?
They have, furthermore, recently bemoaned the number of permanent exclusions taking place in academies, when often those exclusions are reluctantly enforced to protect the other children and, of course, us teachers - their members!
Over several years now, the NUT has been guilty of a disgraceful dereliction of duty and a blatant, egregious disregard for the interests and concerns of its members. The union has also, moreover, been engaged in a cynical ruse that makes its betrayal all the more sickening. It has led us to believe that it continues to champion our interests by challenging the Government over, among other things, excessive workload, when, in reality, it has long supported policies that give rise to the excessive workload in the first place. How I yearn for our own mischief-maker.
Also published on www.conservativehome.com on May 10, 2014